The Happiness Machine isn’t Meaningful

A couple of years ago, when I first started this blog, I decided the purpose would be for posting about things that made me feel alive. I think for a long time, that meant posting about things that brought me joy. Life experience = Feeling Joy = Feeling Alive (or something like that). And that equation is true. Mostly. Feeling joy really does bring fulfillment and meaning for me. However, that equation has become more complex over time.

Life experiences that allow for feeling joy aren’t the only ones that lead to feeling alive. Big, harder to deal with emotions and experiences also make me feel alive.

Grief.

Passion.

Fear.

Anger.

A lot of different feelings are formed through important life experiences and each are part of life. However, two years ago I wasn’t ready to accept these emotions. It was terrifying to think that I will have to feel real grief in my life. It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much that it might change the course of my life (MY LIFE! Wasn’t it mine to own?). It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much it would actually hurt to lose them. Ultimately, I wasn’t allowing myself a lot of life experiences because I was afraid they might lead to my unhappiness.

There was an argument in one of my philosophy classes in college called the happiness machine. Basically, if happiness is the meaning of life then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with creating a happiness machine where people spend all of their time becoming happy and don’t do anything else with their life. They go into the happiness machine, they become happy, the end. (A more present day, realistic alternative would be to say that there is nothing wrong with a person using heroine everyday who happened to own an endless supply of money and a caretaker because it makes them happy and happiness is the meaning of life. Can life be truly be wasted on drugs if the person is happy because of the drugs?)

I knew at the time that there was something wrong with this idea but I couldn’t tell my professor what it was. The answer that I now think to be true is that happiness is not the meaning of life.

But don’t we do everything to be happy?

Happiness is a good feeling, of course, but our lives are not built around happiness and nor should they be. Isn’t constant happiness boring? Doesn’t feeling pleasant everyday also make pleasant feel mundane?

The more pleasant our lives become the more inconvenienced we become by insignificances. My nail polish is chipped and I’m too embarrassed to wear that flashy ring that will draw attention to my hands, and God, I really wanted to wear that ring tonight. And then I stop and think, do I really care about my nail polish or am I just looking to care about something?

Classic case of “first world problems”. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve been able to live. I’m grateful that the only problems I’ve had to deal with are insignificant ones. However, those problems really did matter to me. But maybe I would’ve cared less about insignificances if I’d found more significances to care about.

I believe that the purpose of life is to care about life. Having passion for a subject, an activity, and a person have all brought meaning to my life. So that’s what I’m setting out to do. I’m setting out to find a subject that I could ace the jeopardy round to, because I love learning about that subject. I’m setting out to find new hobbies that I love to do even if they are terrifying (skiing is literally falling down a mountain and I am obsessed). I’m setting out to allow myself to be vulnerable, because the risk is also the reward.

The World Isn’t That Hard to Navigate

It’s Scary. Doing things you’ve never done before. Talking to people you don’t know, who are asking questions you may not have prepared answers for.

We think that our parents must hold the life experience necessary to get things done. It always seemed like it was so much harder for me to make an appointment than my mom. Even when I did actually put in the effort, it seemed to take me two days longer to confirm something with school or the doctors. I thought that my mom might actually have some kind of superpower.

However, sometime in the last couple of years I realized that the person on the other end of the phone is literally paid to talk to you. And usually, the person on the other end of the phone knows enough about what they are doing, that you only have to get halfway to the point. After all, it is their job to help you.

I realized that my mom’s superpower was actually confidence she held in her ability to do it (whatever it happened to be). I realized that everyone has the ability. I realized that the reason it took me two days longer was because I was putting it off for two days. I realized once I started, the thing I was dreading isn’t really that hard at all.

Right now,  I’m in the process of moving across the country. I have talked to so many moving companies I can’t even remember what all of them were offering. But I did it. I found the lowest price for good quality service and my stuff is all going to be put into a moving truck next week and I did that.

Maybe we think the world is hard to navigate, that the doctors appointments are hard to make and the bank is going to be mean to us, because we didn’t have to deal with those things in the past. When you drove around in the back seat as a kid you didn’t know your way back home. I hope now that you’re in the driver’s seat, you realize the whole world is accessible.

Will I ever like mornings?

I woke up this morning the same way I’ve woken up the whole summer, snoozing my alarm until it’s ten minutes past the point of me being able to get ready in time to not be late for work and feeling like I’m in desperate need of some kind of change. Maybe if I cut off all my hair I would feel different. Maybe I just need to redecorate my apartment. Maybe what I really need is to quit my job, start working at a coffee shop, and spend all of my spare time writing poetry. The only certain thing in life is that it is always changing, and somehow, in this interim of almost being done with school and almost being done living in the city that currently claims me and almost starting a new part (I would say chapter but it feels slightly bigger than that), I feel like I walked through drying cement barefoot. Maybe this is my minds way of preparing me for the changes that are coming my way. Or maybe it really is past the time for me to make that appointment at the hair salon.

It can still be your song

You both like the song. It’s a good song. Right now, you think that song is ‘our’ song. It’s one of the things you share. When you are no longer with him it cannot be shared. Couples who are no longer together don’t share things. That’s why ex-husbands and ex-wives get lawyers. They can’t agree on who gets what. But that restaurant that you used to go to together? It’s not one of the things the lawyers talk about. Neither is this song. This song could continue to be his. He could define those lyrics and that melody. You used to sing and dance along but now you will have to turn down the volume or change the station or, most tragically, take if off your favorites playlist. The better choice? You keep the song. That song can be yours. It should be yours. After all, you both liked the song because it was a good one. So listen to it. While you’re listening to it think about the exact thing you’re doing right then. Be in the moment.If you’re driving, pay attention to the scenery. What does the sky look like? Think about how damn capable you are, driving yourself to the grocery store. If you’re running, smile and feel how strong your legs are. Run and breathe to a rhythm in time with the song. And next time you hear it?This can be the memory you think of. Redefine that song by reliving listening to that song. It can still be yours. It can still be good.

-EKJ

27 Things I love About My Sister

I’m lucky enough to call my sisters my best friends. They’re two of the most important people in my life. Obviously, I love so many things about them, so when it comes time to celebrate either one of them I take full advantage of the opportunity.

As it so happens, my beautiful, brilliant, sweet, successful, perfect sister Hannah is turning 27 today and I felt like a proclamation of my love for her was not only appropriate, but completely necessary.

With out further ado, here are 27 things I love about my sister:

  1. The way she does her hair
  2. How supportive she is of everything I do
  3. That she’s thinks I’m cool, even when I’m not that cool
  4. That she told her friends I’m cool, which was really cool of her
  5. She likes learning new things and is extremely knowledgable
  6. If I really like a book I can talk to her about it because she’s probably read it
  7. She’s really good at engaging with the people she’s around, and sets such a good example of how I could be interacting with others
  8. When I’m stressed out about something, she knows the kind of advice that I need
  9. When she was in fifth grade and I was in first she gave up her lunches to me almost everyday because I would forget mine. She’s done so much for me that I will be eternally grateful for
  10. We can sit on the phone together for two hours and not run out of things to say
  11. That I talk to her more than I talk to anyone else, even though we live far apart and both have our own lives going on
  12. She understands the things that I’m going through, because she’s gone through them too
  13. We get annoyed at the same things so I never have to feel like I’m going crazy over something that doesn’t matter
  14. I’ve always had someone to look up to because she is the best role model
  15. She always makes time for the people in her life, which I am lucky to be apart of
  16. I can borrow from her closet when I’m  with her
  17. She’s the one I go to for style advice
  18. She helped me paint the canvases on my walls
  19. She is one of the wittiest people I know
  20. She takes my opinion seriously
  21. People can tell us we look like twins
  22. I receive an OOTD from her every morning
  23. The way she presents herself as smart, pretty, and friendly all at the same time (honestly, it’s so impressive)
  24. The way she can make me feel better when I’m really down
  25. She asks me if I like the picture we’re in together before she posts it
  26. She made up a song about me and she sings it to me all of the time
  27. She sings me a lot of songs all of the time

 

The truth is, the list of things I love about her is never ending. I’m so thankful to have her as my sister and my friend. Here’s to many more birthdays of loving her.

Pictured: Me and my sisters posing in Nashville from this weekend! The birthday princess is on the right.

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My Week Without Coffee

I’m a coffee drinker. I’m a HUGE coffee drinker. To explain just how big of a coffee drinker I am I’ll let you know that by the time I was in fifth grade, I was brewing the family coffee pot when I woke up in the morning. When college rolled around I might have drunk 4 cups everyday, maybe more if I felt like it. I didn’t just drink fancy Starbucks lattes either. I drank it black in the morning, with milk during the day, or with sugar as a sweet night treat. Any way it was served, I probably enjoyed it.

I loved coffee, but I also needed it. One day I tried to do an experiment with myself because I had decided my coffee drinking was becoming completely excessive. I figured if I could go one full 24 hour period, caffeine free, then I didn’t have a problem and I just wouldn’t worry about it. Unfortunately, according to my made-up standards, I indeed had a problem. The experiment lasted until 10am, at which time I had caved because I had a pounding -I can’t do anything but lie down- headache.

Cutting myself off cold-turkey obviously wasn’t an option. Instead, I slowly started to ween myself down. I cut it to a three cups a day maximum. Although, I tried for only one cup a day. Eventually (within the last six months or so) I got myself to a point where I didn’t need coffee everyday. I could skip a day with out my body completely freaking out. It felt good.

Then, this month when I was in Seattle (ironically, the coffee capitol) visiting non-coffee drinking Cutie Pie Boyfriend, I only drank coffee about three times a week.

When I got back to Baltimore I came down with a cold and coffee just didn’t seem like something that was going to make my throat feel better. I was trying to kick the illness quickly because I’m traveling again this weekend. So, I just didn’t make any coffee. At all. All week. And you know what? I woke up fine. I didn’t have any pounding headaches. I didn’t really NEED to have the coffee.

Of course, coffee is still something that I enjoy. It’ll always be something that I like. My friend Thao gifted me some really awesome Vietnamese coffee beans for Christmas, and today I was starting to feel better so I decided to brew some up. It was absolutely delicious.

What I realized today, while sipping on my first cup of coffee all week long, was that the coffee was actually more enjoyable. I could function just fine without downing the cup, and so I took my time to really taste it. It was truly a great feeling to have something, for the sole reason of just wanting it, and not because I needed it.

 

 

Pictured: A cutie cat journal that I needed to share because I’m absolutely obsessed, also gifted to me by Thao!

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Being the Inviter

Asking a semi-stranger, someone you just met or someone you don’t know that well, to hang out used to be SO HARD for me. In fact, I just didn’t do it. Instead, I would find myself in those situations where I would talk about hanging out ‘sometime’ and we would never end up committing. And the tragedy? I would always miss the opportunity to be friends with someone I know I could’ve gotten along with!

I’ve been lucky and have a couple of people in my life (Sweetie Pie Sister and Cutie Pie Boyfriend) who are great at reaching out and connecting with people. It feels like it’s part of their personalities, but after many conversations with Sweetie Pie Sister, I found out that she thinks it was more of a conscious decision for her. One day, she made the choice to be more social. To be the one reaching out. To plan and invite and make as many friends as she could.

Now, I’ve been working on this for awhile. Last year, when I moved to Seattle I took a small, but formative step forward. Whenever I was asked to hang out, go on a date, or show up somewhere… I said yes. I stopped making excuses when I felt too nervous. Was I ever outside of my comfort zone? Of course. But the thing is, I made real friends.

However, Friday night was the first time that I really felt like I have finally leveled up to connector. I reached out to a stranger with a mutual friend who just moved to my city and I invited a girl from my class that I had just met (who happened to be celebrating her birthday!). Said stranger is definitely going to be around again. Said girl was introduced to another girl from my program (who I also invited), they hit it off and hung out together the next day!

At some point, I just stopped being afraid. It was like, the worst that can happen is they say no. I remembered how hard it was moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I remembered how grateful I was for the opportunity to hang out with literally any other human being. I felt like the potential for getting a no was suddenly worth the risk of making something great happen.

The beautiful part about Friday was that it was so dang easy. There was minimal planning, we just picked location (an awesome inside beer garden) and time (8pm). Now my friend group is growing, I’ve checked one more local Baltimore hangout off of my list, and I felt great knowing that I did something to make a few people’s days a little bit better.

 

The New Year Came Early

I decided that I’m not waiting for January 1st to make some drastic change in my life as an attempt to meet unrealistic resolutions. With a “there’s no time like the present” attitude, I have began a good habit kick without even really realizing it.

Last year I read somewhere that 90% of New Year resolutions fail. Instead of becoming depressed by that statistic, I decided that I would make ten resolutions. That way, when 90% of my own resolutions failed, at least I had one that put me a step closer to the person I wanted to be.

I don’t want to say that this method had nothing to show for itself. After all, I did have 21 celebration-worthy items on my Birthday Thoughts post. However, this week made me feel like my life has so much room for improvement and I didn’t want to set a start date. I just wanted to start.

So, I went to the gym.

I’ve eaten healthy.

I studied to learn, not because I had a test.

I’ve been reaching out to friends.

I’ve finally been doing things that I keep telling myself that I should do.

And I don’t want to hold myself to some crazy diet plan or unattainable goal just because I’ll get to say “new year, new me”. I don’t really care about the new year. As far as I’m concerned, the new me can begin right now, and it can begin by doing the things I know I want to have done.

Not Bad

The thing that is advantageous is always the same thing that works in a disadvantageous way. That’s what my professor is trying to engrain in our brains about cellular pathways, anyway. I don’t think it’s a particularly hard concept, but it is one that might be hard to accept.

For a person, it’s like saying a positive attribute about his personality is that he is extremely organized and scheduled. This is good because it means he’s never late and he accomplishes what he needs to accomplish. However, this good thing is also what might be considered bad about him. He is organized and scheduled and so he isn’t very flexible and he gets upset when things change, which they inevitably will.

This idea could be scary. It’s easy to get lost on the bad thought train. That the more you work towards one thing, the less you have time to work for another. That have balance between the two means you probably aren’t giving enough to either direction.

However, it also might work in the opposite direction. For every bad quality a person has, perhaps there is a strength lying on the other side. I’d like to think this. Maybe I run late sometimes, but that means that I take the time to present myself well. Maybe I think about myself too much, but that must mean I’m really in tune with my thoughts and being in tune with myself is mental health (Right?? It’s all about self-care these days).

Isn’t it nice to have fall back? When the bad thought train does hit (which, yes, is also inevitable) this is an idea that helps me get off of it.